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Pompeo’s tour provokes differing reactions inside Iran

Many Iranian politicians, state-controlled TV outlets and Persian newspapers dedicated a significant amount of time to covering or commentating on the recent Middle Eastern tour by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, which included visits to Egypt, Bahrain, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Oman. 

One of the crucial topics at the top of Pompeo’s agenda was laying out the US vision toward the Islamic Republic. The points he made about the Iranian regime during a speech at the University of Cairo were a total contradiction to those delivered by the previous administration. 

The Iranian policy carried out by President Barack Obama concentrated on cooperating and engaging with the Iranian leaders in order to promote peace and stability in the Middle East. Obama famously stated in his 2009 speech, titled “On a New Beginning,” that: “Rather than remain trapped in the past, I’ve made it clear to Iran’s leaders and people that my country is prepared to move forward.” 

This caused the US to substantially shift its Iran stance and pursue a series of unprecedented appeasement policies, which included the nuclear deal and the lifting of four rounds of UN Security Council sanctions. There was also the shipment of millions of dollars of cash to Tehran in exchange for prisoners; looking the other way when the Iranian people rose up against the theocratic establishment and sought democracy during the Green Movement; and secret agreements, including the revelation that the Obama administration issued a license to let Iran sidestep US sanctions so it could convert $5.7 billion of frozen funds through an American bank.

Unfortunately, the costly results of such policies were that the hardliners in Iran gained more power and Tehran became more aggressive and destructive in the Middle East. As billions of dollars began flowing into Iran’s treasury thanks to the nuclear agreement, the regime substantially expanded its influence in several countries, including Yemen, Syria, Iraq and Lebanon, increased its funding and weaponry assistance to its militia and terror groups, heightened its anti-American policies, and advanced its ballistic missile objectives. 

From the perspective of the Iranian leaders, economic or political concessions mean weakness, not diplomatic accomplishments.

Pompeo, however, made it clear that Washington is not intending to counter Iran’s malignant activities with appeasement policies. Instead, Pompeo declared: “We fostered a common understanding with our allies of the need to counteract the Iran regime’s revolutionary agenda. Countries increasingly understand that we must confront the ayatollahs, not coddle them.” 

The reaction in Tehran has been mixed. Some Iranian politicians, specifically the hardliners, have shown signs of concern and believe that the moderates failed to counter the US and effectively advance Iran’s interests. The hardline Etemad newspaper issued a warning in an article titled “Pompeo is visiting nine countries in the region with the objective of countering Iran.”

Another reason for the hardliners’ concern is the possibility that a united front may be established against Tehran. This would create an economic stranglehold that would force the Iranian government to concentrate on its domestic agenda. Last week, the EU appeared to have shifted its Iran policy in light of Dutch revelations about two assassination plots. It imposed sanctions on the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence, as well as on Saeid Hashemi Moghadam, the deputy intelligence minister.

The subsequent US plans have also added to the hardliners’ fears. The US attempted to urge the EU to join Washington and Middle Eastern countries in order to counter Tehran’s activities. Washington is also planning to hold a conference in Poland to focus on how to counter Iran. The conference will include dozens of countries from around the world. 

Nevertheless, unlike the hardliners, Iran’s moderates seemed to dismiss Pompeo’s visit and announcements as a collection of words rather than tangible actions. For example, Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif mocked Pompeo’s speech by saying: “Best for the US to just get over loss of Iran.” And: “Reminder to host/participants of anti-Iran conference: Those who attended last US anti-Iran show are either dead, disgraced, or marginalized. And Iran is stronger than ever.”

From the moderates’ perspective, if the current US administration has failed to set up a united front against Iran after two years of being in power and after withdrawing from the nuclear deal, it is less likely to succeed in the coming years. 

But, more importantly, President Hassan Rouhani and Zarif are attempting to score a victory by showing the hardliners, specifically Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, that they have succeeded at scuttling US objectives and promoting Iran’s revolutionary ideology. 

Finally, following Pompeo’s visit to the region, Iran will most likely react by escalating its defiance and violations of international laws. 
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